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2017 might have been the busiest year I’ve ever experienced in all of my lifetime of playing games, for both good and bad. For every amazing watershed game, every genre-bender and promising announcement, there were scandals, backtracking, and…loot boxes. Despite this endless tug of war, no matter what you’re looking for 2017 was bound to bring you a handful of incredible experiences that will leave you thinking for the year to come. For me, this year introduced me to new all time favorite games like NieR and Drakengard 3; and brought me ideological nirvana in games like Wolfenstein 2.
My favorite part of meeting new people is discovering and falling in love with what makes them unique, and with games it’s no different. For this list, I’ve written about one specific aspect of a game that I loved this year, and what immediately springs to mind when they cross my mind. Whatever games you enjoyed, I hope you all have a wonderful and safe holiday season, and a happy hopeful new year.
10. Night In The Woods
Night in the Woods is a game that takes relatability to the next level. Every character I met throughout Possum Springs echoed someone I knew in real life, and seeing the vague deepness of everyone really helped sell each of their places in that world. As someone who’s struggled with abuse and dealing with expectations and forced obligations, Angus and Bea’s storylines resonated with me so deeply that I found myself trying to talk to them any chance I got (while ignoring Gregg. Sorry Gregg…). There are definitely problems to be found in NITW’s relatability- the game suffers from the same over exaggerated dialogue disease that a certain other narrative driven game starring teens does, but for me these never got in the way of the legitimately earnest and rare portrayals of (most) mental illnesses and societal problems. Night in the Woods is the embodiment of “same.”
Nioh is a game that really understands the concept of mythology. Nearly every character in Nioh is based on real historical figures from Japan’s Sengoku Period, and while there are inklings of what we historically know of them, there are just enough sprinkled embellishments to make Nioh really feel like a long forgotten bedtime story. Based off of an unfinished Akira Kurosawa script (which I didn’t know until finishing the second DLC, and feel extremely stupid for not thinking about in hindsight) Nioh doesn’t just feel like a classic Samurai story, it feels like an homage to old Japanese culture at large. There are dozens of Yokai scattered throughout each region of this colorful rendition of Japan, and each has their own interesting and fun take on their classic folklore basics. I dumped over a hundred hours into Nioh, and while that may have a lot to do with my weird katana fetish, it had just as much to do with my engrossment in the rich and mythical world Team Ninja painted for me.
8. Fire Emblem Heroes
Fire Emblem Heroes has spent this year as the definition of comfort for me. Sure there’s the stress associated with any gacha game (why wouldn’t you just give me Summer Corrin you bastards why! why!!!!!!), but I’ve yet to play a mobage that makes it easier to play a whole bunch without ever spending a dime. FEH takes the already reasonably streamlined combat of the more recent mainline Fire Emblem titles and distills it down into fun bite-sized puzzles. With classic FE tunes to scratch all of the nostalgic nerves in my brain, and adorable art of all my favorite characters from dozens of artists, I’ve never really seen a mobile side game to a major series that feels like it treats its source material with equal amounts reverence and fun poking. Every update has been helping make FEH better and better, and I hope that come this time next year I still find myself logging in each day as I wind down for bed to look at my beautiful teams of Lucinas and Lyns.
7. Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood
It’s a weird thing to consider a particular point of praise but Stormblood really hammered home how much I love the consistency of Final Fantasy XIV. Stormblood suffers in a lot of important areas, but for each misstep comes a huge step forward in Quality of Life, art design, engaging new features, and just overall options for fun. I may be upset at how some of my favorite classes ended up in the overall re-balancing shuffle, and I’m still praying everyday that Dark Knight will somehow get fixed in a magic patch, but I’m now able to take a million screenshots of my self insert dragon girl holding a katana and goddamn what else do you need? Stormblood will no doubt get better as new patches come and go, but for now it’s managed to keep my heart in the game, and knowing I’ll always have FFXIV and the people in it to come back to sets my mind at ease.
6. Sonic Forces
— ❄Winter’s Rose❄ (@horngal) November 7, 2017
Sonic Forces understands what it’s like to have dreams. Sonic Forces isn’t a perfect game, but I doubt anyone who earnestly enjoys it would ever argue that. Clunkiness abounds, though Forces has ended up to possibly be the most playable 3D Sonic game ever released. The gameplay isn’t what matters though; what matters is just how well Sega has evaluated and provided for the Sonic community’s long held pillar of cringe and care. I’m speaking of course of Original Characters, and just how incredible it is that so many people are able to live out their childhood wishes this far down the line. Sonic Forces knows exactly what you want to do with your original character- it presents you with plenty of the options integral to OC design: heterochromia, bandage gloves, torn scarves. If you think of it, Sonic Forces probably has it and is all too ready to give you the keys and run wild. It’s impossible for me to describe how I felt when I found the pink recolors of Shadow the Hedgehog’s shoes and gloves, sitting there as if perfectly designed for his now-canon girlfriend Roxanne Maria. Sonic Forces wants you to feel like it cares, and it knows that somehow throughout all of these years, you still care too.
5. Persona 5
How can you describe Persona 5 as anything without mentioning how hella stylish it is. The fifth Persona is beautiful on all fronts- whether it’s the gorgeous soundtrack that fluctuates between soft and proud, the stunning character designs that really feel like the ultimate nailing of the series style, or even just all of the little touches like how your main character jumps onto enemies during sneak attacks. This is all amazingly complemented by hands down the best User Interface that neither JRPGS or gaming at large has ever seen. Persona 5 does what seems like the impossible and makes navigating menus actually feel punchy and cool. I could praise things like the stylized character portraits or the fantastic evolution of all out attacks from goofy 3D models into beautiful 2D panels all day, but what has stuck out to me after all this time is how good it feels to finish a battle. Whether it’s through those all out attacks, or just the run Joker and friends do past loot and level up screens, Persona 5 makes the random encounters in a JRPG really feel exciting. When the man behind the great UIs of games like Kirby Air Ride and Super Smash Bros. is going crazy over your work, you know you did good.
4. Tales of Berseria
Tales of Berseria has what might be my favorite cast of characters in any form of media. Every member of the Berseria crew feels like they could’ve been a side character in an entirely different JRPG, but instead here they all are being big dumb idiots at each other. I had never played a Tales game properly before this, and I’m honestly disappointed now that I haven’t. The “Skits” system is one of the greatest ideas for a JRPG, that I’m shocked more games haven’t picked up on it. Whether it’s seeing Rokurou and Eizen feud like parents over what life lessons Laphicet should learn, or watching Velvet be an overly aggressive straightman to Magilou’s stand up comedy routines, every new moment endeared me more and more. The fact that there are only a couple dozen end-battle skits was barely even a disappointment, because of just how funny and cute almost all of them were. I went into Berseria expecting to just end up with a surface level love of Velvet, but what I ended up for was an endearment to Eizen, a respect for Rokurou, and a whole mess of things for Magilou. It might not be the best game to “play” but damn, am I glad I played it.
3. Yakuza 0
I don’t think there’s a better poster child for just how important and good side content in games can be than the Yakuza series. Before this year, I had always put the Yakuza series on the back burner because of how intimidating the idea of purchasing a medley of assorted PS2 and PS3 games had seemed, but with the no strings attached promise of a prequel, I finally had my chance to jump in. Now when I praise how amazing the side content in Yakuza 0 is, I am by no means trying to do the big meat of the game a disservice, it’s fantastic in its own right. What goes great with meat, though? All sorts of side dishes, and 0 delivers in spades. There are all sorts of ridiculous side stories ranging from Kiryu helping a shy back alley shiitake mushroom salesman become a world famous chef, to Majima unwittingly writing the future tax code of Japan, and each one is so heartwarming and humorous you’d swear you’d just watched an episode of some sort of sitcom.
Where Yakuza 0 REALLY shines for me personally, however, is Majima’s motherfucking cabaret club Sunshine. I spent hour after hour perfecting my establishment, doing each night flawlessly and customizing all of my girls into the absolutely beautiful and perfect squad of white haired goddesses Sotenbori had ever seen. Everything about this game is great; it plays like a less stressful diner dash, it oozes presentation, and most importantly, I get to see Majima fight absurdist characters and do all sorts of ridiculous bullshit in the name of Respecting Women. Everytime Majima would go to one of his platinum hostesses with drinks or towels, and leave with a respectable thumbs up I couldn’t help but match him with one of my own in real life. Kiryu’s real estate management simulation is fine, but god dammit, I spent hours and hours and ended up 100%ing my Sunshine by chapter 8, and I will always remember my time there.
2. Hollow Knight
Nioh took plenty of lessons from Dark Souls for its mythology but Hollow Knight also took those lessons and basically everything else, while still managing to cultivate its own unique atmosphere. Almost all of Hollow Knight takes place in a massive series of underground tunnels, and despite how boring that sounds as a premise, Team Cherry managed to not only make each area look and feel diverse, but also keep it grounded in common sense. The bright grassy caves fall down into a bright swamp- the city where it’s always raining lies underneath a massive lake, and above a winding series of waterways. Throughout this large and interesting world are plenty of characters: some friend, some foe, and some just completely insignificant. Hollow Knight manages to legitimately understand the fun of Dark Souls NPCs; when you never really know whether you’ll ever see each other again, or if there’s a greater purpose to their words at all. When I actually resolved my first NPC subplot I was surprised at how it evolved and where it went, and actually found myself laughing in a game that can often times feel oppressive and dreary.
The mere fact that Hollow Knight feels oppressive and dreary is amazing in its own right, considering its cutesy near-chibi art style, but it’s never trying to trick you or subvert you. Hollow Knight never jumps into hyper-realism or out of place art styles other “cute” games like Undertale do; just like its world, it has a cohesive style throughout. This is what makes endgame areas with walls of skull and bone, or endless caverns where dead bodies fall perpetually still have impact- you’re drawn into this world, you know what it’s like, and its continuing to immerse you and stay true to itself. Before I played Hollow Knight I had felt like the closest thing we were going to get to the immersive worlds found in the Souls games were half-baked games like Lords of the Fallen or The Surge, but now I know that not only is it possible to match that level of intrigue and mystique, but it’s possible to take it and craft a wholly new and original experience. I loved watching my completion percentage go up, I loved finding new areas, and I loved every second that I played Hollow Knight.
1. NieR: Automata
Before this year, I had never played any of Yoko Taro’s games, and I had only the vaguest of ideas regarding just how much he wanted to break the boundaries of what it meant to be a game. Everytime NieR: Automata shifts its camera, everytime it changes the type of game it is, everytime its story changes completely on a dime, it felt incredible to me. This game isn’t one satisfied with just being a character action game, it’s not satisfied with just being a shmup hybrid- it tries to be everything it can, and everything it has to be. Throughout its narrative, Automata teaches its players that everything can change as long as you keep going, for better or worse, and that’s reflected in nearly everything around it. Its predecessor NieR: Gestalt was a game plagued with development issues, ranging from its low budget to the team’s overall inexperience. Despite these problems, Gestalt still tried to do a lot of what Automata did- it managed to have shmup elements, it managed to be a halfway competent action game, it managed to be a text adventure.
Even with all it was trying and its cult of fans adamantly supporting it, Gestalt failed commercially, and the fact that there was even a second NieR game feels like a miracle in its own right. After the failure and hardship of Gestalt, it’s hard to believe that the development team themselves would even want to make a new NieR, and yet, they persisted. Not only did they manage to start work on Automata, they also worked towards curbing the mistakes of the past by asking Platinum Games to design the gameplay side of things, to more than make up for their inexperience with action titles. This tangent might seem unrelated, but it’s actually the main reason I love Automata, and what its narrative can represent.
NieR: Automata is a tale of cooperation, inside the game, and out. While Ending E is the obvious culmination of all this, it echoes constantly throughout the events of every aspect of the game. 2B couldn’t do all she does without 9S, 9S couldn’t do anything he does without Devola and Popola, or Pod 153, and A2 couldn’t do anything without the memories of the people she loved. The same goes for the real world; Automata couldn’t have existed and be the incredible work of art it is without the partnership of Square Enix and Platinum Games, and we the players couldn’t have finished our story without the help of the other people who loved the game as much as we did. I’ve been struggling here to say things I haven’t said before about Automata but I have to finish with my truest and deepest feelings.
NieR: Automata isn’t just my favorite game of 2017, it’s my favorite game of all time, and I’ll never forget what it made me feel, or what it makes me feel, even today.